Eliminating Foods in Binge Eating Recovery, Part III

I’ve been talking about eliminating foods, for those who want to do so in order to lead a healthier lifestyle (see Eliminating Foods Part I and Part II).  In this post, I’m going to discuss the importance of replacing foods you are trying to eliminate and how to avoid letting your healthy changes turn into restrictive dieting.  But first, I’m going to talk briefly about my own experience with needing to eliminate foods, something I addressed in Brain over Binge.

Since I recovered over 8 years ago, I’ve gone through 4 extended periods of time that I’ve had to completely eliminate certain foods. My first child developed allergic colitis only several weeks after birth (a condition where the baby’s immune system overreacts to food proteins in the mother’s milk, which leads to irritation/inflammation, ulcerations, and even some bleeding in the colon).  To treat this, I had to give up all dairy (and beef), wheat, soy, eggs, and nuts for several months.  When I gave birth the second time, I hoped it wouldn’t happen again; but sure enough, when my daughter was a few weeks old she began developing the same symptoms.  This time, I knew exactly what to do to help her, so I went on an elimination diet again; and within a couple weeks, her symptoms disappeared. For my 3rd and 4th babies,  I didn’t even want to risk it so I stopped all dairy one month prior giving birth.  My 3rd baby did fine, but my 4th(who is now 8 months), had some symptoms despite the elimination of dairy and there was about a 6-week period when I had to eat nothing but potatoes, turkey/chicken, olive oil, almonds, and some mild vegetables and fruits in order to clear up his digestive tract.  (On a side note, all my children are fine now.  An infant’s intestines are porous until around 6 months, which allows proteins to pass though; but when the pores start to close, their bodies gradually stop producing the adverse immune response. It’s not a true allergy, just a temporary protein sensitivity).
I talked a little in Brain over Binge about how restricting my diet in this way didn’t cause any problem for me.  It never felt like a “diet,” or like I was depriving myself (Ok, maybe I did feel a little sorry for myself sometimes as I watched the rest of my family munch down a pizza and I was eating my 3rd meal of sweet potatoes and chicken for the day:-)).  Although it was inconvenient to have a lack of freedom around food, and it’s not something I’d want to continue for a long period of time; it wasn’t a bad experience at all.  There was always a choice to put my babies on hypoallergenic formula, but that would have been costly and not as healthy for them.  I chose to change my diet, and I felt like I was doing the right thing for my babies.
In the same way, people who lead healthy lifestyles and nourish their bodies well with real food don’t feel “deprived” when they eliminate certain foods. They know they are doing right for their bodies, and they feel good doing it; and in all likelihood, they would actually feel “deprived” if they were forced to eat a diet consisting of a lot of processed, low-nutrient food. Wanting to nourish yourself well, and therefore avoiding foods that have no benefit to you, is much different than trying to force yourself to follow a bunch of food rules and starving yourself just so that you can lose weight.

It is possible to make healthy changes (or even eliminate a certain food completely because it creates an adverse reaction) without it turning into a rigid diet; and sometimes the difference is simply in your mindset. I recently came across a book that does a wonderful job of explaining why there is no need to think in terms of rules, restrictions, and prohibitions when it comes to taking on a healthier lifestyle. It’s called Ditching Diets, by Gillian Riley. I’ve had a few of my own readers tell me that this book is helpful to read along with Brain over Binge, especially if a very healthy lifestyle is desired. Ditching Diets discusses some of the same concepts that my book does, but with a greater focus on helping you let go of the “dieting mindset,” and addressing lesser forms of addictive overeating (that gray area that doesn’t feel like a binge, but also not like you’d want to be eating).

What I liked best about this book was how Gillian Riley drove home the idea that we all have free choice about what and how we eat, and everyone is capable of achieving freedom and peace with food – without solving emotional problems first.  But, she also makes clear that having freedom with food doesn’t mean we’ll just be eating a bunch of junk all the time because we are free to do so.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite:  once we feel our free choice and give up dieting, we will be more likely to make better choices.

I could relate to so much of what this book talked about, because I’ve experienced it.  When I was dieting, I indeed felt deprived when I created a lot of food rules and avoided certain “fattening” foods (and I ended up eating much more of those same foods as a result of the deprivation).  However, now, I don’t have the same reaction when I choose to avoid an unhealthy food (or when I gave up countless foods while breastfeeding). Without the dieting mindset, passing up a certain type of food doesn’t make me feel like I’m missing out on something, and doesn’t create powerful cravings.  

As you know from my book and other blog posts, I’m far from being a “perfect” eater (which doesn’t even exist because nutrition science is constantly expanding and changing). I eat unhealthy foods sometimes, but as Ditching Diets does such a good job of explaining, when there is a strong sense of free choice about how you eat (and you don’t feel out of control), choosing to eat less than ideal foods isn’t a problem – it’s simply a choice with certain outcomes you have to be prepared to accept.  Yes, I choose convenience over nutrition when my life is busy; but yes, I also strive to nourish my body well as much as I can.  This is a balancing act that everyone must manage, but it never has to be all or nothing, it never has to be perfection or binge. 

If you are taking on a healthy lifestyle, I think it’s very important to make sure you have enjoyable and nourishing replacements for the foods you are not eating.  I know this seems pretty obvious, but sometimes people forget the “enjoyable” part, and then get trapped in the dieting/deprivation mindset.  The goal should be to find foods you like to eat, and that make you feel good as well, which may take some experimenting.  To illustrate this, I’m going to give one example from my own life of a food my family has been trying to avoid, and how we’ve replaced it:

My kids love waffles (they like peanut butter and maple syrup on them, which I think is a bit odd, but they got it from their daddy:-)), and I slowly got into the habit of giving them processed, pre-packaged waffles too often.  At the end of my 4th pregnancy and after my son was born in November, the older 3 kids ate the pre-packaged waffles every single day. I was so exhausted and sleep-deprived that I couldn’t find time or energy for anything better first thing in the morning, and it was the only easy breakfast that all of them liked. Around the end of 2012, my husband and I decided that we’d find a way to make healthy, homemade waffles so our kids could get a better start to their day.  We experimented with some recipes and finally found something that worked –  using eggs, coconut milk, coconut flour, baking soda, vanilla, cinnamon, and honey.  The waffles are delicious!  I make a big batch each week and I freeze them, so that the mornings are just as easy as when we bought the frozen Eggo waffles. If you asked my kids, I’m sure they would still say they like the “waffles from the store” better, but they eat up the ones I make. I know this is a simple example, but just keep in mind that there are enjoyable, healthier replacements for foods that you want to avoid.  

Finally, as a reminder from my last post, try to keep making healthy changes to your diet separate from quitting binge eating.  That way, if you choose to eat a couple processed waffles one morning, you won’t pay any attention when your lower brain says, “you already ate 2, you might as well have the whole box.” 


To jump start your recovery, you can get my free eBook, “The Brain over Binge Basics”

If you want more help in ending binge eating, and direct coaching from me on issues like the one discussed here, you can learn about the Brain over Binge Independent Study CourseAfter Course Support, which is available for a discount until May 1st, 2018.

12 thoughts on “Eliminating Foods in Binge Eating Recovery, Part III

  1. What a great excerpt! It’s so interesting you didn’t feel rebellious when you had to drop foods when breastfeeding. It’s all about CHOICE. We hate restrictions when they are diet-related!
    I am one of the lucky reader who got your suggestion to read, “Ditching Diets”. I think this is very helpful because your “Brain over Binge” book helped me stop BINGEING, but I found myself needing more help in the overeating department. I am one of the classic persons who is always “on” something–watching calories, paleo, low carb/sugar, intermittent fasting. But I’m realizing all those forms of restricting leads me to overeat. It became a habit after doing “well” all day. Thanks for everything, Kathryn. Your word and insight helps so many of us!

    1. Thanks for the suggestion. I’d love to (even though I’m a much better writer than a speaker:-)), but I’m not sure I can fit it into my life right now. I will definitely look into it and see what I can do.

  2. I have read your book and it has helped with my binge eating Tremendously!! I know you would understand how binge eating can literally consume one’s life. So I want to THANK YOU for your time to write the book and share your knowledge and success. I am starting to go through every article you have written on here as well as the comments. You are so genuinely wanting to help people, so lovely!

    1. Vicky,
      Thanks so much for your kind comment. I’m sorry that I’m just now responding, I’ve gotten a bit behind lately! I am glad to hear my book helped you, and I hope you are doing well.

      All the best,

  3. hi kathryn,
    firstly i just want to say i just finished your book today and I have not been able to sleep tonight. I am just thinking about everything you have said as I have been bingeing for 7 years after restrictive dieting and it is ruining my life. My dad is extremely ill in hospital 5 years ago and I have used it as an excuse to say i am bingeing because of this and my family say the same but in reality it started 2 years before this so i know it is not related and has become a habit.

    I have been labelled as depressed and my mum who i am very close to always tells me if i was more busy and fufilled i would not binge eat. It is very hard for people to understand if they cannot experience it. After reading your book it has made me see what I always suspected; I am depressed because i am binging- not the other way around.

    I have some questions: 1. How do you feel about alcohol and binging? I know you say you are able to eat anything and stop for good but are there not still some triggers? 80 percent of the time i drink and go out i come home to binge afterwards especially if i drink too much. I wondered what your suggestions are? shall i stop drinking completely whilst i begin to stop binge eating?

    Im praying this book works for me as i feel i have wasted so many years and experienes by binging and I feel very guilty my father has lost his ability to live any kind of life and I am wasting mine.

    Thank you so much for your book and I am praying this works!!!

    1. Hi,
      Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. I’ve been unable to keep up lately. I wrote your question down as soon as I read it a few weeks ago, because I wanted to blog about it. I meant to finish the post much sooner, but here it is if you haven’t seen it: ( “Should I Drink Alcohol While Trying to Quit Binge Eating?” http://brainoverbinge.blogspot.com/2013/09/should-i-drink-alcohol-while-trying-to.html ) I hope you find the post helpful.

      I am very sorry about your dad, I know that has to be heartbreaking. My father was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, and it was so difficult. I hope you are doing okay.

      Take care,

  4. Hi Kathryn,

    I ditched dieting a few weeks ago. Since i did i have this mentality of “well, you didnt get to eat this when you were dieting so why not have it?” not a binge voice just the freedom of choice we have. I focus on adding in good foods as opposed to trying so hard to eat perfectly by dieting right away. It was my desire to want to be thin right away. At night time when i was dieting i would just have healthy desert. fruit parfait type of thing. i did that every night. Now that i’ve rejected the diet mentality i eat what i want and how much i want. I’m working on listening to my body instead listening to a book’s principles. I had nice family meal yesterday but wanted something when i got home. Is that animal brain since i created that wiring-habit?

    1. Hi Michael,
      Thanks for writing, I apologize it’s taken me a while to get back to you…I’ve had a hard time keeping up lately!

      I think it’s great that you are giving up dieting and trying to focus on eating what your body wants – exercising your freedom of choice.

      Your question is a good one.

      In reality, our animal brain is involved in all of our eating. It is not our enemy. The problem is when it becomes wired to believe that “binge” eating is necessary for survival.

      I think when you first quit, it’s best to focus primarily on detaching from the urges to binge. If you have some cravings when you might not be truly hungry, and you choose to follow them sometimes, then I think that’s fine. A lot of that is likely your body needing to get the message that you aren’t going to starve it anymore. These extra cravings should taper off on their own as your body gets used to not being deprived or stuffed. And, if they don’t taper off after a while, and if you feel that the cravings are intrusive and interfering with your well-being; then I do think it makes sense to view them as neurological junk.

      My blog post “Non-Hungry Cravings” and “Binge Subjectivity” might also apply.

      I hope you are doing well!


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